SO MUCH TO DISCUSS THIS MORNING
The Rider Nation is wise enough to know better than to get rankled by the club's preseason record. However there seems to be some growing unrest amongst the locals and we'll get into that further down too.
2 - As far as Saturday's game went, it turned out to be quite a contrast in each team's approach to the game. The Chris Jones-led Roughriders were intent on closing out the preseason by getting a good evaluation of their talent, and hopefully getting quarterback Darian Durant and his first team offense into a groove to start the season.
The Edmonton Eskimos on the other hand, seemed to be frothing at the mouth to take out six months of pent-up frustration on the unsuspecting Roughriders. In Edmonton newspaper articles on game day, several Eskimo players were quoted as saying Saturday's game felt more like a regular season game than preseason. I got no such feeling from Saskatchewan and frankly, why would we? They're a team pretty much rebuilding from scratch and may still not be sure what exactly they have.
The Eskimos seem locked and loaded for a title defense. They went 2-0 in the exhibition season. And to their credit - with the exception of Mike Reilly - they didn't moan about it in the off-season, preferring instead to do their talking on the field.
3 - There needn't be anymore evidence of the Eskimos' vengeance than their opening drive on Saturday when quarterback Mike Reilly heaved a 59-yard bomb to Darel Walker inside the Riders' 10-yard line on the game's opening play. Two plays later, Reilly found Edmonton newcomer Chris Getzlaf in the back of the endzone for a 7-0 lead just 1:26 into the game. Take that.
The Grey Cup-champion Eskimos never relinquished control the rest of the way and celebrated each big play lustily while the rattled Roughriders struggled to match their opponent's intensity all afternoon long.
After the game I chatted with an Eskimo staffer in the stands and I mentioned, "That opening drive looked like a big F-U to Jones and Saskatchewan."
He replied, "It was."
4 - And so here we go -- the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders find themselves embroiled in a white-hot rivalry with the Eskimos and the regular season hasn't even kicked off yet.
Clearly it has almost entirely to do with Chris Jones and his staff fleeing Edmonton for Saskatchewan just eight days after the Esks' 2015 Grey Cup championship and this feud will only simmer throughout the summer. The Riders return to Edmonton once in July and once more in August and God only knows how crazy it's going to get between now and then. At some point, I expect it will boil over.
One of those newspaper articles on Saturday even brought up my West Division prediction from April of the Riders finishing in first-place and the Eskimos battling for fourth. Writer Gerry Moddejonje said that preseason forecast, "seems to have reverberated through the walls of Commonwealth Stadium over the pre-season".
Again, if what I say on the radio is what it takes to fire up the Eskimos, perhaps I should be sending an invoice to Eskimos General Manager Ed Hervey.
5 - Still, the bad blood is undeniable. One apparently lifelong Eskimos fan stood in front of our broadcast booth at Commonwealth Stadium prior to kickoff on Saturday and screamed, "Pedersen you're nothing but a ----! Nothing but a ----!"
This "gentleman" appeared to be in his 60's and was dressed in a matching Eskimos golf shirt and hat. I took my headset off to engage him but he quickly turned and fled to his seat. There was no chance for a rebuttal.
A hit-and-run as it were.
Sigh. So here we go again for another season, with an entirely new fanbase to rile up. I guess I'm up for it.
6 - There certainly isn't any panic amongst the Rider braintrust over Saturday's performance and Chris Jones said as much in his postgame interviews. The game was decided on less than a half dozen plays (the Riders' three redzone turnovers and the Esks' 59-yard pass and 85-yard touchdown run). There's still no telling how the game would've turned out if it was 1's versus 1's all afternoon but by the way Mike Reilly was sizzling, it could've been a rout. We'll never know.
To a man, the Saskatchewan Roughriders feel they will "surprise people" this year and fully expect to be in the Grey Cup game come November in Toronto. However there's a massive amount of work which needs to be done between now and then. Heck, there's a ton of work necessary before the Rider season even kicks off on June 30 at home to Toronto.
The Riders will be prepared, no doubt, for Ricky Ray and the Argonauts in two weeks' time but this team won't likely be a finely-tuned machine in the early going. There are just too many rough spots which need to be worked out. Communication in the secondary, the notorious Chris Jones blitz packages, timing on offense and protecting the football are all areas which have a long ways to go.
But this club will be there in the end. The coaching staff is itching to put the work in and they have a strong collection of talented players eager to come together and create something special.
It depends on who you talk to in Saskatchewan: some are content to have a contending team in 2016 and be a dominant squad in 2017 when the new stadium opens. Meanwhile Chris Jones has repeatedly stated on record that it's Grey Cup or bust.
This franchise has no choice but to be successful in the years ahead. The Dream Team has been assembled in management with Chris Jones, John Murphy and Jeremy O'Day but it will not happen overnight.
7 - It'll be interesting to get Chris Jones' explanation of their roster moves on Sunday which included the release of 20 players. The Riders Head Coach & GM is scheduled to meet with the media at 10:00 on Monday.
Most notably, I was surprised to learn of the release of CFL veteran Clarence Denmark. The 6-year veteran had a dazzling 54-yard touchdown reception in the Riders' 28-16 exhibition loss to B.C. and the Rider quarterbacks marvelled at his speed during training camp. However with the emergence of rookies Ricky Collins and Ryan Lankford, Denmark appears to have been deemed expendable. Still, with Denmark, he's a proven commodity and he'll likely end up somewhere in the CFL before long. Maybe even back with Saskatchewan. I'm sure today he's wondering what he possibly could've done better.
Equally shocking was the release of rookie centre Aaron Picton. He was one of the top linemen in the Florida minicamp and centred the 2's for all of training camp. To my untrained eye, he seemed to be performing admirably although it was mentioned to me that he "plateaued" while in Saskatoon. Hopefully his career isn't over. Incidentally I'm told he was not offered a practice roster spot.
Rookie linebacker Dillon Grondin was singled out by Jones during training camp for his strong play and hustle and he even got a look kicking field goals. However he found himself looking for work come Sunday morning. Was he on the field at middle linebacker when the Riders got gashed for 85-yards by Edmonton's Joe McKnight Saturday afternoon? I don't know. Stadium replays were spotty and of course the game wasn't televised.
Was I stunned to see the release of veteran quarterback Brett Smith? No. You read this column religiously and will recall I predicted this move coming out of the Florida minicamp (drawing ridicule from the thousands of Smith fans in the Rider Nation). Smith never seemed to mesh with the new coaching regime in Saskatchewan and unfortunately couldn't get over the hump in two exhibition games.
On Saturday he was momentarily pulled from the game after taking a swing at an Eskimo defender, while colour commentator Carm Carteri surmised it was because he freelanced with the play selection in a 1st and 10 situation at the Saskatchewan 25-yard line in the fourth quarter. In the end does it really matter why they took him out? It just doesn't seem like the situation was going to work however I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith surface somewhere else in the CFL. He still shows flashes of brilliance and he's still so young.
We'll further need an explanation from Jones regarding what the club plans to do with the quarterback position behind Darian Durant. Rookie Philips Sims catapulted up the depth chart in the latter stages of camp but he's been placed on the 6-game Injured List coming out of camp.
In some cases it seems as though some of the position battles were pre-determined. Ricky Collins fumbled the ball in the preseason while Curtis Steele was guilty of multiple drops. Others weren't afforded the same leeway, but that's the prerogative of this staff.
Clearly there's a plan in place, but it's not immediately clear just what it is.
I'm part of a group of investors involved with the development of a gaming app for pro football entitled United Games. It's the brainchild of the developers of Madden Football, the world's most-popular video game from EA Sports, and they're getting into the app world.
Some of the big name - and big money - investors include Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and Emmitt Smith but we're offering introductory opportunities at a minimal cost to you, as an affiliate.
All you need to do is email me your name and cell phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll forward you the information package.
The ad to the right is what one of the other investors is promoting in the United States. However don't email the address in the ad. Please email me directly.
I've already got several of my personal contacts signed up including Luc Mullinder, Carm Carteri, Phil Andrews, Scruffy, etc. The app is scheduled to launch in time for the 2016 NFL season in September however the hope is to bring it to the CFL next season.
CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has expressed an interest in expanding Fantasy Football within our league and this app would be ideal. Unlike Draft Kings and Fanduel, United Games uses the same concept of the old QB1 interactive game where users predict running and passing plays so it's more-suited to a nine team league than filling out a fantasy roster.
We predict this is going to be huge.
9 - Meanwhile Onside Interactive is pleased to announce the launch of the Onside CFL 2016 Fantasy Guide. This digital document is now on sale for $20, and available exclusively at http://store.payloadz.com/go/?id=2489343.
The 40-page booklet features 212 CFL player profiles with full write-ups, 2015 season statistics, and stat projections for 2016. Also included are “cheat sheets” with player rankings listed for each position, including team defense and rookies. Those who purchase the Onside CFL 2016 Fantasy Guide will receive an update following all player cuts at the end of the CFL preseason schedule.
10 - THREE LAST NOTES: 1) Things are starting to move in the world of hockey television broadcasting. Word broke out of Toronto over the weekend that George Stroumboulopolous is being dumped as host of Hockey Night in Canada and will be replaced by Ron McLean starting next season. Insiders say this will be the start of massive changes at Sportsnet.
2). Rogers Place, the new home of the Edmonton Oilers looks nowhere near ready to open by mid-August however they assure me they're on schedule. Apparently the ice plant went in on TBT weekend. They've done the majority of the work on the inside already, unlike the way New Mosaic Stadium was erected.
And 3) The NBA couldn't have asked for anything more than Sunday evening's 93-89 victory by Cleveland over Golden State in Game 7 of The Finals. It was the closest game of the series and went right down to the wire. Everytime I look at Lebron James, he reminds me of Darian Durant although several of "Doubles'" closest friends say I'm full of it. But Lebron's leadership and demeanour seem to be a carbon copy of Darian although the Rider quarterback doesn't flop or whine to officials. But when James broke down on the floor after Sunday's game, it reminded me of Durant after the 2013 Grey Cup.
We think we went through massive droughts between Roughriders' Grey Cup championships but that's a pittance compared to what the City of Cleveland has gone through over the past 50-plus years. It was great to see the images coming out of Cleveland Sunday evening.
THAT'S ALL! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4:00 PM